An old Chinese proverb says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In the case of Garfield Hawk and the Un-Included Club, that journey began, not with a step, but with a ball. A basketball to be exact. Eight years ago, this tall, unassuming African-American man, armed with little more than an audacious dream, unrelenting tenacity, and the most radiant smile you’ve ever seen, set out to change his neighborhood. In process, he saved an entire community.
Throughout Garfield’s life, East Temple had changed very little, particularly in the decade preceding the club’s inception. In an economically exploding town, filled with new restaurants, housing developments, shopping centers, and thriving businesses, it remained largely untouched—seemingly immune to the wave of prosperity washing onto the shores of its neighboring communities only miles away. With high teenage pregnancy, illiteracy, obesity, and crime rates, it stood in stark contrast to the city’s success story. Quite simply, the community had been forgotten, and perhaps more importantly, so had its children.
“The kids in the neighborhood were unsupervised, and they were getting into trouble because they lacked the necessary structure,” says Garfield. “The younger kids looked up to the older kids because they didn’t have role models. Well, the older kids didn’t have role models either, so both age groups ended up doing the wrong thing.”
That’s when Garfield decided to do something. Using his own money, he bought a basketball goal and a few balls to provide recreational activities for the children. Over time, he not only earned the children’s trust and respect but also their love, becoming a de facto mentor, friend, and, in many cases, father figure for his community.
However, that wasn’t enough for Garfield. He wanted to do more, and he did. In 2007, he founded the Un-Included Club, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing educational and mentoring opportunities for young children and teenagers. As Garfield describes it, the word “un-included” was a play on the word “included.”
“The definition of included is to contain or be a part of something or some group,” he explains. “So we want our kids to be excluded from the included. We want them to be un-included from anything negative, like drugs, obesity, teenage pregnancy, gangs, and illiteracy.”
Focusing on holistic, experiential learning, the club planted a community garden, organized cooking lessons, invited community leaders to speak, conducted educational field trips, acquired sponsors for summer art camps, instituted community service days, and began tracking the children’s performances in school.
“These kids are like sponges. All you have to do is open their mind to the possibilities. Expose them to new things, and it really expands their perception of themselves and takes the limits off of who they think they can be,” says Garfield.
Today, the organization has spaces dedicated to homework tutoring; a literacy room where children can immerse themselves in the imaginative world of reading and writing; a meditation room where the children will learn to center themselves and develop healthy coping mechanisms; a S.T.E.M room (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) where they can conduct experiments and find creative ways to explore the sciences; an arts room where children can find new avenues to express themselves through painting, drawing and music; and a kitchen for cooking lessons that focus on balanced nutrition and healthy eating.
“This new program is a huge undertaking and a big commitment, but I have no doubt that we are up for the challenge,” says Garfield. “These kids need us now more than ever, and doing nothing is simply not an option. They deserve our best, and we’re going to give it to them.”